EAMON QUINN: National Competitiveness Council report highlights training to boost firms

Irish firms require improved training to boost productivity in key industries, according to the latest scorecard from the National Competitiveness Council.

The report found that the multinationals based here boosted overall national productivity figures but the performance of large swathes of the economy, including wholesale, retail, transport, accommodation services and food industries, lagged other countries and “particularly” those in the UK.

The NCC brings together government officials, business leaders, trade unions and academics.

Its reports have been criticised in the past for their catch-all recommendations, but the latest bulletin takes on greater significance because of the looming threat to businesses here if the UK strikes a hard Brexit with Brussels.

Its Benchmarking Ireland’s Productivity Performance seeks to promote initiatives that will encourage collaboration at home and abroad and wants to boost innovation and to help start-ups.

“Delivering uplift in management skills and quality is also particularly vital and improvements in management are associated with positive productivity gains,” the report said.

Boosted by the multinationals and GDP measures, Irish productivity is ostensibly among the highest in the world. The NCC wants, however, to see the development of new measures for specific industries and the public sector.

Separately, the Investec Ireland survey of manufacturing purchasing managers here appeared to confirm Irish manufacturing had survived the initial shock from the fallout of the UK’s Brexit vote last summer.

Output had slowed in Irish factories in the immediate wake of the shock vote which had hit the prospects for firms exporting across the Irish Sea.

But “a key highlight” of the January report was new orders rose at their fastest pace since July 2015, with demand from overseas particularly “robust”, said Investec Ireland chief economist Philip O’Sullivan.

With most Irish purchasing managers expecting their firms to increase output in the future, “it is clear that sentiment on the whole remains positive,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

Similar surveys also showed factories had expanded their output in Germany and France. Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index for manufacturing showed German manufacturing growth accelerated to its fastest pace in three years in January.

“Germany’s manufacturing sector started 2017 in much the same way that it finished 2016, with growth accelerating,” IHS Markit economist Philip Leake said.

“The sector’s impressive performance bodes well for GDP growth in the first quarter, building on the strongest expansion in five years across 2016 as a whole.”

Manufacturers enjoyed increased demand from both domestic and foreign clients last month, the survey showed, with new orders rising at the fastest rate in three years. The sector’s overall solid performance was also underpinned by unusually strong job creation as factories hired new staff at a rate not seen since August 2011.

French manufacturing activity expanded at its fastest pace in nearly six years last year as demand firmed up. “These are encouraging signs given the broad desire in France to reduce its level of unemployment,” said IHS Markit economist Alex Gill.



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